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The White Stripes

Formed in Detroit, Michigan in 1997, The WHITE STRIPES comprised of husband-and-wife duo Jack and Meg White; Jack (aka John Gilles) took his wife’s surname when they married the previous October. Mystery and confusion initially surrounded their relationship – were they brother and sister? Frontman Jack began his musical career playing guitar and drums respectively with local outfits The Go and Goober & The Peas, before recruiting his partner Meg to play percussion in what would ultimately become The WHITE STRIPES. Not content to feature in one (or two) combos, Jack was a member of short-lived Detroit punk-blues quartet, Two-Star Tabernacle, alongside actor/singer Dan John Miller (also of Blanche, ex-Goober…), his wife Tracee Ann Miller (of Blanche) and Damian Lang; a few bootlegs have surfaced since.
Clad in matching red and white clothes (apparently they even smoke Embassy Royals because of their clever colour scheme), The WHITE STRIPES debuted with the single `Let’s Shake Hands’, issued in limited copies in 1998 on the Italy imprint, after whipping up a storm on the local garage/underground rock circuit; the B-side `Look Me Over Closely’ was penned by folkie TERRY GILKYSON. Two more singles (`Lafayette Blues’ and `The Big Three Killed My Baby’) followed while the group flitted to champions of the independent scene, Sympathy For The Record Industry, where their self-titled album was released in 1999.
THE WHITE STRIPES {*7} was good enough to generate column inches, while critics seemed most impressed with covers of folk-blues classics from ROBERT JOHNSON (`Stop Breaking Down’), BOB DYLAN (`One More Cup Of Coffee’) and the trad `St. James Infirmary Blues’. Whilst still borrowing a variation of sounds from the likes of LED ZEPPELIN and MC5 (example `Cannon’, `Jimmy The Exploder’ and `Astro’), Jack’s love for the blues was more than apparent: he continuously cited giant of the genre, CHARLEY PATTON as his immediate influence, and frequently covered some of his songs in The Stripes’ live gigs.
This love of country blues was even more evident come their sophomore LP, DE STIJL (2000) {*7}, a record named after the abstract art movement led by Dutch artist Gerrit Rietveld. Stand-out tracks included the rock-steady `Little Bird’, `Truth Don’t Make A Noise’, The WHO-like `You’re Pretty Good Looking’, `I’m Bound To Pack It Up’ and a worthy SON HOUSE cover `Death Letter’. A break was imminent and Jack took to producing some of the scenes most promising acts (including The VON BONDIES and The SOLEDAD BROTHERS) during the period between 1999-2000; shortly before the release of the second set – March 2000, to be precise – the couple officially divorced having lived separately for just over a year.
That said, on a professional level only, it was time for Jack and Meg to venture back into the studio to record what was to become their breakthrough Doug Easley-produced album, WHITE BLOOD CELLS (2001) {*8}. On the eve of its premiere, the NME claimed that The WHITE STRIPES, along with fellow garage rockers The STROKES, were destined to become the future of rock music. Even the tabloids caught on, with The Sun hailing them as “Stripe-tastic”. Meanwhile, normally FM/MOR-friendly station Radio 4 caught the Stripes’ buzz, as did John Peel, who casually compared them to The SEX PISTOLS. Rolling Stone magazine reckoned that Detroit was the new Seattle, but Jack was unfazed, claiming he’d rather hang-out with fellow musicians The VON BONDIES than pay attention to the hype. A sold-out tour followed, plus a reputed $1m move to XL Records, once home to The PRODIGY. Subsequent singles `Hotel Yorba’ (a country-esque dirge named after a local doss-house), `Fell In Love With A Girl’ and `Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground’ followed, all charting within the UK Top 30; others proving essential to the day’s youth were the rather twee `We’re Going To Be Friends’, `I Can’t Wait’ and `The Union Forever’.
Going from strength to strength, the duo’s trail-blazing success saw them entering the US Top 10 and the UK No.1 spot with their indispensable set ELEPHANT (2003) {*9}. A stonking mix of blues, acoustic folk and downright dirty riff-age, it saw the pair initiate a worldwide anthem with the single `Seven Nation Army’. Hinged solely on one guitar hook and Meg’s booming drum-kit, it was the envy of all guitarists and probably the song which should supersede NIRVANA’s `Smells Like Teen Spirit’ as the following decade’s nouveau anthem. That aside, the album had much more on offer; the Bacharach-David cover `I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ (coupled with Kate Moss pole-dancing video), the start-stop ferocity of `The Hardest Button To Button’ and the complex and lengthy blues jam `Ball And Biscuit’. Dark, moody and slightly harsh on the ears (example `Black Math’), the set also had its fun moments, most notably the warm three-way acoustic stop of `It’s True That We Love One Another (featuring Meg and first-lady of neo-garage rock HOLLY GOLIGHTLY sharing vocal duties with Jack). Mostly recorded live by Liam Watson on reel-to-reel tape at his studio in London’s Abbey Road, bits of “Elephant” (`Hypnotise’, `The Air Near My Fingers’ and `Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine’) were as punk as it comes, with a band who were literally in the throes of international and critical acclaim. Darlings they ain’t!
Jack’s subsequent extracurricular activities included an acting role and contributions to the soundtrack of Cold Mountain (in 2003) and a production credit on Nashville legend Loretta Lynn’s “Van Lear Rose” set (of 2004); The Stripes’ cover of DOLLY PARTON’s `Jolene’ (a Top 20 UK hit in late 2004), suggested that Jack and Meg might well be goin’ up the country.
GET BEHIND ME SATAN (2005) {*7}, a transatlantic Top 3, wasn’t going to trouble country stars Vince Gill or Kenny Chesney, but from its cannily ambiguous biblical title to its ramshackle set-list, the record did document the band’s most intimate love affair with Americana to date. Comparisons to “Exile On Main St.” were obvious and oft-stated, right down to lead single (UK Top 10) and foot-stomping opener, `Blue Orchid’. For once, the comparisons were on the nail: the likes of successive UK Top 10s, `My Doorbell’, `The Denial Twist’ and especially `Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)’ were some of the loosest “Exile…” updates yet conceived, with the same primitive production, soul-strafed vocals and candle-in-the-basement aura. `The Nurse’, meanwhile, sounded like it’d been crooned over a marimba session in downtown Guadalajara. That sense of sprawl was carried over to Jack’s most high profile moonlight to date, The RACONTEURS; he’d also married English-born model/singer Karen Elson.
Primarily a meeting of the minds between Jack and fellow Detroit-based solo songwriter BRENDAN BENSON, together with The GREENHORNES rhythm section, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler, The RACONTEURS released a debut, limited edition 7”, `Steady, As She Goes’, in January 2006. An album `Broken Boy Soldiers’ appeared in early spring to glowing reviews, a lads-together appreciation of their favourite records rather than a Jack White ego trip. A sophomore set from the ensemble, `Consolers Of The Lonely’ (2008), spread Jack’s versatility even further.
Squeezed somewhere between the pair of Raconteur sets (and Jack’s ELVIS role in rock movie, Walk Hard) came The WHITE STRIPES’ sixth studio work, ICKY THUMP (2007) {*7}, an album that was made despite rumours of a split as both parties were living air-miles apart (Jack in Nashville, Meg in L.A.). More accessible in places, and inspired by the Pearly kings and queens of London city, as depicted on the front cover), the record has moments of greatness in the three hits: the title track, `You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)’ and a “bull-fighting” version of the Patti Page novelty nugget `Conquest’. The documentary film and accompanying live set, UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS (2010) {*7} seemed to have wrapped up The WHITE STRIPES for good – but who knows?
Over the years, the duo have delivered the odd cover or two for B-sides, including `Lord, Send Me An Angel’ + `Your Southern Can Is Mine’ (BLIND WILLIE McTELL), `Party Of Special Things To Do’ + `China Pig’ + `Ashtray Heart’ (CAPTAIN BEEFHEART), `Rated X’ (Loretta Lynn), `Black Jack Davey’ (trad.), `Good To Me’ (BRENDAN BENSON), `Who’s To Say?’ (Blanche), `St. Ides Of March’ (The SOLEDAD BROTHERS), `Shelter Of Your Arms’ (The GREENHORNES), `Walking With A Ghost’ (TEGAN & SARA), etc.
© MC Strong GRD-AS/MCS 2000 / rev-up June2012-Oct2014

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